Daniel Thwaites, Guest Columnist
Right about when George Bush introduced the education initiative No Child Left Behind, the enormous child molestation scandal that had been criminally hidden by church authorities for decades began to break open. Some wag made the observation that the Church's programme could be called 'No Child's Behind Left'.
It's never really been dealt with squarely. Church leadership has generally preferred to hide in delusions of innocence, imagine itself victimised by the secular world, and barricade itself behind lawyers to delay, deceive, and deny.
What is even more absurd is that the Church would like to deal with its various sex scandals without ever addressing the matter of celibacy in the priesthood. As soon as one scandal is announced, there's another on the heels. A couple of weeks ago, it was reported that the Archbishop of Edinburgh, Britain's most senior cleric, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, won't be going to Rome after all to help elect the next Pope. After vehement denials, he has admitted to sexual impropriety.
By the way, I am Roman Catholic, and intend to remain one unless and until they formally invite me to leave. Even then, I think I would await a proper excommunication rather than take a quiet exit.
Being Catholic makes me a member of a minority group in Jamaica about which people feel entirely comfortable expressing some of the most bigoted views. That's for another time, though. The real problem is that many in the Catholic hierarchy seem to be working overtime to justify all the put-downs.
Now there's a chance for a change. Pope Benedict XVI has announced his retirement, and although many are criticising him for it, I appreciate that the man knows when it's time to take a break, call it a day, and allow a young bwoy to give it a shot. This is an unusual occurrence.
The last Pope to resign was Pietro Angelerio, aka Celestine V, in 1294. That's if you don't count Angelo Corrario, Gregory XII, who was one of three men claiming the papacy at that time in the early 15th century, and who was forced out. Morrone was a hermit who only lasted a few months on the throne of St Peter. Word is that he had quickly grown tired of the intrigue and political backstabbing in Rome.
Legally, every male baptised as Roman is eligible for the papacy, so technically there's a very big pool of candidates to choose from. Unfortunately, for centuries the College of Cardinals has chosen from among its numbers. This is a great shame, because there's far too much uniformity among that crowd. In particular, I've noticed that none of them are married or have a girlfriend, or maybe even both.
This troubles me. Because one criterion I would like applied to the choice of next pontiff is that he likes women. And I'm not talking about in the theoretical sort of way where some guy who loves humanity in general must, ipso facto and as a matter of logical deduction, love women because they are part of the common stock of humanity. No! I'm talking about hardcore love. The kind of love that Peter the Apostle (and reputed first Pope) had for his wife, or better yet, that Jacob had for Leah, Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah (and probably some others that we haven't even heard about).
I was mulling this over when it dawned on me that I would be a pretty solid candidate. I'm just saying - I'm available. I'm duly baptised, of appropriate age and gravitas, and I'm unencumbered by any stain that a tear-filled month in a confessional couldn't decisively cure.
It's true, I have some general plans for the next few years, but there's nothing set in stone. And I had planned to visit Italy in the upcoming year, so I'm prepared to even furnish my own travel expenses.
Plus, nowadays there are geographical considerations to bear in mind. Of the 1.2 billion people who count themselves as Romanists, many more are in Latin and South America than in Europe. Africa and Asia are growth zones. Jamaica is located in Latin America, sorta, and heir to African and European traditions all at once - at the crossroads of the world, so to speak. Everyone can be satisfied.
All the same, despite my strong credentials and demographic desirability, it's disheartening when I survey the competition and the deciding delegates. These delegates are above average age, stained by years in the system, jealous of their privileges, xenophobic to outsiders, and completely unaccustomed to changing the way they do things.
I know what you're thinking: This sounds like political party delegates here!
Back to the Church! The dress code would have to get shifted up, because currently the Pope dresses in some flowing robes, Prada red shoes, and a tiara. I an' I nuh inna dat. The Prada shoes can stay, but in black. Otherwise, it would be business casual for Pope John XXIV.
In the first hour, I would allow and invite women and married priests, lift the prohibition on the use of birth control, withdraw from the crusades to legally patrol the lives of non-Catholics, and enact an absolute prohibition on deacons from secular political involvement. It would be a better world instantly.
Incidentally, if you think secular politics is rough and tumble, try church politics! And I mean that as a statement of general applicability, not confined to the Romans. So I'll be the first to admit that my candidacy isn't looking good. I'm like the Ras Astor Black or the Betty Ann Blaine of the papal run-off.
Still, my elevation wouldn't be entirely unprecedented. Back in 1513, the cardinals chose Leo X, and he was neither bishop nor priest before his elevation. So it IS possible. I'm sure it helped that Leo was formerly Giovanni di Lorenzo de' Medici. The Medicis were, to put it mildly, very powerful. But this is the great democratic age, and low-born whelps from the islands can aim big.
Daniel Thwaites is a partner of the Thwaites Law Firm in Jamaica, and Thwaites, Lundgren & D'Arcy in New York. Email feedback to email@example.com.